U.S. Supreme Court

Justice Thomas warns against court packing, cancel culture and incivility

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Justice Clarence Thomas

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

Justice Clarence Thomas said Friday talk about adding justices to the U.S. Supreme Court can be damaging to the institution.

Thomas spoke in Utah at an event hosted by the foundation of former Republican U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, report the Associated Press, the Salt Lake Tribune and the Deseret News.

“You can cavalierly talk about packing or stacking the court. You can cavalierly talk about doing this or doing that,” Thomas said, according to the AP. “At some point, the institution is going to be compromised.”

Thomas said the court-packing idea is being pushed by some who are dissatisfied with the Supreme Court’s opinions, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.

“Let’s be honest. This is really about the results they want. They haven’t been able to make the institutions do what they want, to give them what they want. That’s no court at all. That’s no rule of law,” Thomas said.

Thomas also lamented a decline in civility.

“I don’t know how we are going to survive as a society if we continue to exalt people who have bad manners, are insulting and negative. This is a civil society, and you need civility to make it work,” Thomas said.

When he was a student, Thomas said, he was taught to debate civilly, according to the Deseret News. Now, it’s “not fun” to visit college campuses where people “seem quite full of themselves,” and there is animus if you disagree, he said.

If you can’t debate on a university campus, “where do you learn civility? Where do you learn to disagree without being disagreeable?” he said. Thomas said that, “particularly in this world of cancel culture and attack, I don’t know where you’re going to learn to engage as we did when I grew up.”

Thomas also referred to the Supreme Court’s “free-for-all” style of oral arguments before the COVID-19 pandemic, when the justices “interacted and interrupted each other.” The result was “almost like a catfight,” he said.

When the court switched to telephone arguments, the justices took turns asking questions, and they became more productive, he said. Thomas had mostly stayed silent during oral arguments until the one-at-a-time questioning, at which time he switched to “gregarious engagement,” according to prior coverage by the New York Times.

After the Supreme Court resumed oral arguments in October, the court adopted a hybrid format that allows the old style of questioning in the beginning, followed by individual questioning.

See also:

ABAJournal.com: “Idea of court packing gains traction among some Democrats; are there alternatives?”

ABAJournal.com: “Democrats introduce bill to expand Supreme Court; opponents warn of ‘politicians in robes’”

ABAJournal.com: “Law profs abound on Biden’s new commission to study changing the Supreme Court”

ABAJournal.com: “In final report, SCOTUS commission takes no position on term limits or expanding the Supreme Court”

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